At the end of May, the Prime Minister appeared on 2GB with Alan Jones, where he was subjected to a squawk rant lasting nearly 15 minutes on the pricing policies of Australia’s supermarket duopoly. Interestingly, a transcript of that bollocking has never appeared on the Prime Minister’s website.

Since that interview, Jones has been getting stuck into the issue, often over-looking issues running in the rest of the media.

Then yesterday, Kevin Rudd pops up with a policy of monitoring the activities of the retail duopoly. And this morning, wasn’t the Parrot pleased, all set down to interview Mr Rudd in the prime 7:15am slot.

In his morning preen after the 5:30am news, Jones was swinging in his perch at this move by the Opposition. He mentioned that Rudd had spoken to him recently and said that Jones was really on to something with his Woolworths attacks. Jones also mentioned that Labor small business spokesman Craig Emerson had been in touch with Jones discussing the issue, and that Jones had supplied Emerson with research material.

Anyone who has read Jonestown will immediately recognise what is going on here. The Parrot is being duchessed. Flattery by appearing to follow the great one’s views on retail pricing. But clearly Rudd has learned another lesson. This morning’s interview was conducted in studio, always the best way to keep Jones under control.

But in fact, Labor pulled a minor coup yesterday, and it is not just about Jones. Labor also managed to leak reams of material on how families are being squeezed by high house prices, a story given blanket coverage by the Daily Telegraph in talking about how Sydney is turning against John Howard.

For all the talk on interest rates at the last election, Labor today has turned the table by getting the water cooler conversation on to home affordability and retail prices. It’s not only interest rates that squeeze families. Other outgoings have the same impact.

So do relatively static wages, a point central to the ACTU campaign on the policy-formerly-known-as WorkChoices. This week’s final Bulletin column by the venerable Max Walsh makes a more academic point on the same issue, highlighting the relative decline in the wage sector of the Australian economy.

But what did the government do yesterday? It sent Alexander Downer out as the attack dog! He was wabid, absolutely wabid about cawwot prices. And then there was the Treasurer doing a terrible Captain Smirk job on the 7:30 Report .

Costello was probably right about the detail of his attack on Rudd, but as host Ali Moore pointed out, the ABS site doesn’t have the detail he was suggesting.

It is fair to say the ABS probably never could provide the volumes of material on regional pricing of goods and services, but the argument about pricing has nothing to do with the detail.

What Labor did yesterday was raise an issue that people think they understand, prices, while the government essentially said this was a media stunt that Labor would never be able to deliver on. Perfectly true. But what will talk back radio be talking about today?

The Parrot’s first talkback caller this morning had a whinge about whether Kevin Rudd was going to be setting the price for bananas in Cooma and Bourke, but this call (sounding suspiciously planted) was slapped down by Jones.

After months of ostracism by the Iemma government, having a Labor leader – the Labor leader – on-side with one of Jones’s issues was an opportunity not to be missed.

Those with longer memories will remember the 1991 NSW election, when Nick Greiner waltzed around the state talking about how well the state’s finances were being managed, while Bob Carr kept doing stunts in supermarkets about the price of food. Admittedly, Carr was trying to get a scare campaign running about a state GST, but there are clearly similarities to national politics today.

Clearly the economy is steaming along nicely, and the government is happy to crow about it.

But the economic figures show that the wages sector of the economy is not growing nearly as strongly as the economy as a whole, and there are also other issues besides interest rates that make it tough for battling families.

Like Greiner in 1991, the Howard government is spending too much time patting itself on the back about how good the economy is going, when what many voters are feeling is decidedly grumpy about how hard they are having to work.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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